Run away from some Spanish tradition. And a 1,500-pound bull.
Spain’s annual and chaotic Running of the Bulls is coming to the Bay area Saturday, and although it may have its differences from the tradition in Pamplona, every early July the Great Bull Run’s Americanized version offers not only thrills, spills and fun, but an additional Spanish tradition to the fold. This Saturday, a slice of Spanish culture can be lived by anyone with a backbone and sense of adventure.
OFF THE BUCKET LIST
Rob Dickens and business partner Brad Scudder were looking for a trip of a lifetime and found one in the Running of the Bulls, the annual eight-day event in Pamplona, Spain. It’s dangerous, exciting and a bucket-list item many want checked off. However, the trip isn’t cheap and Dickens and Scudder eventually scrapped the dream of going.
“Are there that many people that can just take off 10 days to go to Pamplona?” Dickens said. “We couldn’t get a hotel, either. We wanted to have a way to take to people, all over this country, who can’t get to Spain.”
The duo created the Great Bull Run, which brings the chaotic event to adventure seekers in the United States. The event also includes Tomato Royale, an Americanized version of the La Tomatina, the giant tomato fight in Bunol, Valencia, Spain each August.
“We wanted something wild and crazy for people who weren’t necessarily wild and crazy enough to run with the bulls (in Spain),” Dickens said.
There are differences to their event in Dade City and Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls and most of them, Dickens says, are logistics and safety.
First, their track is a straightaway, as opposed to winding down the narrow streets of Pamplona.
Second, Pamplona uses 12 bulls, and although GBR started with 12, it’s increased to 18 because there are usually so many people in the run. The run is done in shifts, with 500 people running at one time.
Third, there is no deadly bullfight after their event as there is in Spain. The organizers insist no animals are harmed.
When the Great Bull Run in Dade City was announced last year, it was criticized by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) as “cruel and dangerous” and that it would “put people and animals at risk.”
“Our first run in Richmond was just miles from the PETA headquarters, and then only 12 protesters showed up. Not only is it bad business to hurt the bulls, its cruel and something that doesn’t happen to them at all.”
Dickens said the bulls are expensive animals “that we think of as professional athletes. We want to protect them and keep them healthy and injury free.”
Remarkably, since 1910, when record keeping began, only 15 people have died in Spain’s Running of the Bulls, with the latest in 2009. In most incidents, it’s from being gored. However, organizers say being gored is avoidable.
Dickens, taking note from Pamplona organizers and tour guides, says if a runner falls, they should stay down until the bulls pass. Goring or injuries usually occurs when a runner falls down and then gets up immediately.
That’s not to say there are dozens of injuries each run in Pamplona, nor has the Great Bull Run been injury free. There has been a broken pelvis, wrist and plenty of scrapes and bruises.
“Its not as chaotic as Pamplona,” Dickens said. “Our fencing has nooks and places to escape easily, and I would say 70 percent of everyone hangs by the nooks and on the fences, while about 30 percent will be running the whole time. … But I feel like we’d be cheating people out of their money if there wasn’t a chance of danger or the possibility of injury. That is one of the risks you face when you run this, and in the end, there’s less injuries out there than there is in a high school football game.”
Each August in a small town outside of Valencia, Spain, thousands of people grab thousands of tomatoes in the hope of pegging a loved one or total stranger. Dickens and company wanted to bring that Spanish tradition, La Tomatina, to the states, as well, and their version, Tomato Royale, is vegetable-chucking fun.
“Who doesn’t want to throw a tomato at someone else?” Dickens said. “And who doesn’t, maybe secretly, want to be pegged, too? The tomato fight is for those who want to get crazy, but not crazy enough to do the bull run.”
Participants will scramble through 90,000 tomatoes, most of them past their prime, and come out sticky and red and smiling.
“The tomato fight is just as crazy as the bull run. Trust me,” Dickens added.
Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.